Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Monday Wrap-Up: Innovative Districts, Vouchers, Reading, More

After two "snow days" and a weekend, the Legislature jumped back into action yesterday.  In meetings stretching from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, committees continued hearings and debated bills with this Friday’s “turnaround” deadline looming.  All meetings scheduled for today have been pushed back two hours as snow continues to fall in Topeka.  Here is a committee-by-committee report.

House Education:

Innovative Districts.  At its 7:00 a.m. session, the committee voted to recommend HB 2319 favorably on a voice vote.  The bill would allow up to 10 districts to become “innovative districts” with approval from the State Board of Education by setting higher student completion standards for college and career-readiness.  These districts could then exempt themselves from most state school laws by action of the local board.  KASB supports the bill.  It is opposed by the Kansas National Education Association because it would allow districts to be exempted from certain laws concerning teachers: continuing contracts, due process and professional negotiations.  The committee rejected amendments from Rep Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City, which would have struck the provision allowing exemptions from most school laws, and from Rep Nancy Lusk, D-Overland Park, which would have removed exemptions from the three teacher laws.

Special Needs Scholarships (Vouchers).  After extensive debate, a motion to report HB 2263 failed on an unrecorded, but apparently 8-10, vote.  The bill would have established a state scholarship program for students with special education IEPs that would provide state money from school districts to be spent at private schools.  The bill was amended twice, but the discussion generally raised more questions than the one the committee could answer.  KASB strongly opposed the bill, raising concerns about its constitutionality, compliance with federal special education law, and financial impact on school districts.

Although the vote was not recorded, it appeared the committee members voting for the bill were: John Bradford, R-Lansing; Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs; Amanda Grosserode, R-Lenexa; Kelly Meigs, R-Lenexa; Jerry Lunn, R-Overland Park; Ron Highland, R-Wamego; Shanti Gandhi, R-Topeka; and Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita.  Apparently voting against the bill were Diana Dierks, R-Salina; Nancy Lusk, D-Overland Park; John Ewy, R-Jetmore; Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, who was appointed to the committee for the day; Sue Boldra, R-Hays; Ward Cassidy, R-St. Francis; Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield; Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City; Roderick Houston, R-Wichita; and Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway.  Remember, these are not official votes.  You would have to contact the representatives to ask how they actually voted and why.

Teacher Liability Insurance.  Late in the day, the committee passed HB 2232, which would direct the State Board to arrange for the purchase of liability insurance for teachers.   It was amended to instruct the State Board to coordinate with each unified school district to provide liability insurance.  KASB took no position. 

Celebrate Freedom Week.  Also Monday, the committee held a hearing on HB 2280, which establishes the week that includes September 17 each year as Celebrate Freedom week, and directs the State Board of Education to include the study of certain historic documents in history/government standards.  After a long discussion and a few minor amendments, it passed out on a voice vote.  There were a number of expressions of turning it into a resolution, but the failed at the end.  KASB took no position on the bill.

Senate Education:

Read to Succeed/Grade Retention.  The committee held a hearing on SB 169, which contains Governor Brownback’s three-part reading initiative.  KASB focused on the first part, which would require all districts to adopt a policy, beginning in 2917, that a student who failed to score at the lowest level on the third grade state reading assessment or an alternative assessment approved by the State Board of Education may not be promoted to fourth grade until demonstrating that level of proficiency.  There are various exceptions to this policy, which makes it difficult to estimate how many students might be affected.  In addition, the State Board will be adopting new assessments and performance levels over the two years under the No Child Left Behind waiver.

KASB stressed there is still not enough evidence to determine the long-term benefits or risks of mandatory grade-level retention, and noted the State of Florida, which has the longest record of such a program, ranks well below Kansas student performance, including for various subgroups.  KASB opposed requiring such a policy for all districts, but suggested it be considered an intervention for schools or districts that fail to make progress under the new accountability system.  KASB supported the parts of the bill that provide funding for reading interventions.  The bill also provides for incentive payments to top achieving schools.  Also opposing the bill were the Kansas National Education Association, Kansas City USD 500 and Topeka USD 501. Wichita USD 259 appeared as neutral.

The committee took no action on the bill, but it may be considered today.

Dyslexia Services.  After reviewing several amendments presented by committee Chair Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, to address concerns raised in testimony, no motion was offered to either amend or recommend SB 44.  KASB opposes the bill as introduced as a potentially expensive new mandate that also exceeds the requirements of federal special education law.  Unless action occurs today, that will likely end discussion on the bill this session.

Career Technical Education. The committee approved SB 128 on a voice vote.  The bill would allow CTE students until December following the year they graduate to complete national certification in certain high demand areas that result in $1,000 incentive payments to school districts (and also help pay the cost of assessments in these areas).  KASB did not testify on the bill, but is supportive.

Capital Outlay.  The committee also reviewed several amendments to SB 131, which would expand the allowable use of capital outlay funds, but after several members expressed concerns about the bill it was passed over.  Some of those concerns reflected KASB’s testimony on the bill.  KASB appeared as neutral, offering support for the concept of broader capital outlay uses, but only if capital outlay state aid equalization aid is restored.  KASB stressed the Gannon district court has ruled the entire capital outlay system is unconstitutional without state aid.

School District Financial Reporting.  The committee took up but did not finish discussion of SB 171, which would add several new requirements to financial data districts must report to the state and post on their websites, particularly in the area of student activities.  KASB opposes the bill for imposing additional costs on districts.

This afternoon, the committee is scheduled to hold a hearing and take possible action on SB 172, which would prohibit the use of Carnegie units for graduation requirements.  KASB will testify in support of the concept of moving away from “seat time” based requirements, but propose delaying the effective date to allow a new system to be developed at the state and local level.  The committee could take action on the bill today.

Other bills available for committee consideration today included: SB 103 – redefining at-risk pupil, and SB 176 – creating the coalition of innovative districts act.

House Education Budget Committee

Local Activities Budget.  The committee held a hearing on HB 2248, which would allow districts spending below the statewide average budget per pupil to adopt a mill levy to finance student activities and other programs not required by the state.  The levy would require a public vote for approval and no state equalization aid would be provided.  KASB testified in opposition based on the lack of equalization, but testified in support of a three-part package of increasing base state aid per pupil, the maximum local option budget and LOB equalization aid.  The committee could take action the bill this afternoon.

Mandatory LOB.  The committee then turned to HB 2003, which would require each district to adopt a 10% local option budget (which all districts already have) that would be used to calculate a high base budget per pupil.  The purpose is to aid the state in defending itself in the current school finance lawsuit.  KASB opposed the bill because it proposes to show more state support of education by LOB funding without addressing the underfunding of LOB equalization.  After reviewing a print-out of the bill’s impact on school districts, the committee took no action.

The committee is expected to continue to discuss HB 2003 when it meets today at 5:30 p.m.  Also available for possible action is HB 2215, which restores the threshold for transporting certain non-resident students from 2.5 miles to 10 miles.  KASB supports the bill.

House Taxation:

Machinery and Equipment Tax.  KASB joined a long list of local government representatives in opposing HB 2285, which would reduce taxes on certain commercial equipment or “trade fixtures” currently taxed as real, rather than personal, property.  The bill would reduce the tax base for both the state and local units of government, resulting in either less revenue or higher taxes on other property, mainly residential.  The committee could take action today.

Other Action in the Statehouse:

The Senate Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to take up the Governor’s budget for the Department of Education today, including school district state aid.  The education subcommittee essentially adopted the Governor’s proposals to keep most K-12 level, with some increase in general state aid this to keep the base at $3,838 and formula increases for KPERS contributions and capital improvement bond and interest aid.
The House voted 120-0 to passed HB 2261, which makes permanent the ability of districts to make transfers from certain restricted funds for general education purposes, and removes any limit on the district contingency fund.  KASB supports, the bill which was referred to the Senate Education Committee.

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